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February 10, 2018

Pakistan asks US to restore dialogue process


February 10, 2018

WASHINGTON: Pakistan has asked the Trump administration to restore the multi-tier structural dialogue in an effort to address bilateral and mutual concerns.

The request has been put forth by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal during his meetings with high-level officials here. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence, James Mattis were also urged to resume the process during their respective visits to Islamabad. Both diplomats were also told not to discuss bilateral issues on public forums, and also consider Pakistan's legitimate security concerns, Ahsan Iqbal said on Thursday.

The strategic dialogue was suspended before President Trump announced his South Asia policy. The multilateral process was initiated by the Obama administration where both governments used to meet annually at the ministerial level to provide the vision and framework for countries' bilateral partnership in core areas of joint interest and cooperation. In addition to the ministerial meet ups, the strategic dialogue was composed of six working groups that included energy, security, strategic stability, and nonproliferation, defence consultative group, law enforcement and counterterrorism, economics and finance, education, science and technology.

Speaking to journalists at the embassy, Ahsan Iqbal underscored the necessity of mutual cooperation to achieve stability in Afghanistan, and peace in the region. Responding to a question about the Senate hearing on Afghanistan where Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan testified, Ahsan Iqbal said that the importance of Pakistan's critical role and to bring peace in Afghanistan and its relationship with Kabul was acknowledged.

The deputy secretary had told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that a decisive action from Pakistan against militant and terrorist groups would help de-freeze the funds that the administration had earlier suspended under its new South Asia strategy. "We continue to value our relationship with Pakistan and recognise the benefit of cooperation," he told the panelists while acknowledging Pakistan's important role and sacrifices it has made. Ahsan Iqbal said that he would meet the deputy secretary soon to discuss issues of mutual interests. He, however, protested the drone strike that reportedly took out TTP leader on Thursday. The minister maintained that "terrorists are terrorists, no matter which side of the border they are," but that each country has its own territorial integrity which ought to be respected. He demanded that the US needs to provide and share information with Pakistan, and the country will take action against terrorists on its own.

He insisted that peace in the region was the cornerstone of Pakistan's national interest and foreign policy, and subsequently it was reaching out to its neighbours for more cooperation and coordination. He said that India's efforts to destabilise Pakistan's progress were counter-productive and essentially a "zero-sum" game. Rather than engaging in an arms race, the regional neighbours need to race in progress and prosperity, he said pointing out that the region has a lower literacy rate, and faces higher health and poverty issues. He added that both countries should deal with these issues first with a "people centric approach."

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